Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Draw! Animated Films Take on Lives of Their Own

If you have ever taken a film class, you have probably encountered at least one instructor who dared to ask (possibly with raised eyebrows), "what is film?"

After a detailed and drawn-out discussion that you only narrowly survived, it turns out that film, like you already guessed, is something different for everyone who experiences it. For some it is instructive. For others it is cathartic. And for others it's a creative way to pass the time.

But no matter who you are, films allow you to escape. The stream of images before your eyes turns off your mind, and you are lost within someone else's world for an hour and a half. This is especially true for films with animation.

In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, a stop-motion rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's classic story, director Marc Lougee crafts a fantasy world that is dark and dismal. A mid-19th century man, who is imprisoned for reasons he was never told, explores his pitch-black cell and narrates his findings: a seemingly-bottomless pit in the ground and a swinging metal scythe hanging from the ceiling.

Lougee, whose stop-motion experience includes everything from MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch to those famous ABC Saturday Morning "We'll be Right Back" interludes from the 80s, feels that the one-room setting of the The Pit and the Pendulum increases its potential to trap the viewer inside. And it was a cheap set, too.

"When we pitched the story, we knew it would be less involved logistically," says Lougee. "Hey, it's a guy in a large, dank, dark, rat-infested room, right? How could we go wrong?"

Another animated short that can't go wrong is ONE RAT SHORT, which was created as a self-professed "work of love" by Charlex Films in New York. Drawing their inspiration from The Red Balloon, director Alex Weil and others create a poignant and engrossing world where one rat (hence the title) stumbles into a high-tech science lab where hundreds of mice are being kept and barcoded.

As we've come to expect in CGI-animated films, a mild love story (between the rat and a blue-eyed mouse) intermingles with the action. But vastly unlike what we've come to expect in CGI-animated films, the "characters" (if you can call them such) in One Rat Short are in no way cartoonish. They do not talk. They don't sing. They
don't dance. And this is how Weil intended it.

"Using music, SFX and Hollywood camera angles, as well as editorial and filmic techniques that draw the viewer into the film, it was my goal that the emotional flow of the film occur completely in the mind of the viewer and not on the face of the character," he says. "I didn't want the viewer to see a rat be sad, I wanted the viewer himself to become sad."

On a more whimsical note is COWBOYS AND INDIANS by director Justin Harder who currently works at Reel FX Creative Studios in Dallas. The shortest of the shorts (two minutes, to be exact), Cowboys shows why it's a bad idea to gesticulate toward your crotch when you're trying to entice a voluptuous Native American woman.

"When you’re dealing in a silent world like this, all you've got for communication is body language. And this [the gesticulation] just happened to be one of the first things that popped into my head," Harder says. "What can I say? I’m a simple man."

In DREAMS AND DESIRES - Family Ties, director Joanna Quinn shows how a girl with a new video camera keeps a video diary of her friend's wedding with disastrous and hilarious consequences.

In Kun-I Chang's FISSION, a man envisions himself as graffiti on the wall, while director Dony Permedi's KIWI! shows how far a feathered underdog is willing to go to achieve his dreams.

In THE PRINTED RAINBOW, director Gitanjali Rao depicts the journey of a woman and her cat through magical worlds of beauty and delight, while THE SILENT CITY by Irish director Ruairi Robinson shows a world of war and desecration.

MIRAGE, written and directed by Youngwoon Jang, crafts a wondrous realm where humanoid creatures must destroy in order to survive. Says the tagline, "The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart."